Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Tarot Tales: K is for Kings and Knights

Welcome to the 2021 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Tarot Tales. I am making a selection of folktales, legends, and other traditional stories that correspond to tarot cards. Storytelling and tarot go well together. Do other stories come to mind? Let me know in the comments!

This post is the first one about the Minor Arcana. So, instead of one card, I'll be focusing on eight: four Kings, and four Knights. Comments will be shorter, but since Kings and Knights are very common in folklore, the selection process was also a lot easier. 
(If you have suggestions for Kings and Knights from more non-European cultures, let me know!)

CUPS (emotions, water)

King of Cups: Zal (Persia)

The King of Cups is emotionally mature, compassionate, caring, and kind. He is diplomatic, intuitive, warm-hearted, and an excellent mentor. For these reasons I chose my favorite hero from the Persian Book of Kings, Zal. Born with white hair, Zal was put out into the mountains by his father to die, but the mythical Simurgh bird raised him. As an adult, he returned to his kingdom and became a wise, level-headed and diplomatic ruler - and a kind and loving father to one of the greatest Persian heroes, Rostam. He also has a gorgeous love story.

Knight of Cups: Oisín (Ireland & Scotland)

This is my favorite guy in the deck. Romantic, creative, charming, and on top of that just as caring, kind, and compassionate as the King. He is all about beauty and love, all heart and imagination. He is the downright knight in shining armor. I chose another old favorite of mine: Oisín (or Ossian), the famous bard of Irish and Scottish legends. Oisín is the son of the legendary hero Fionn Mac Cumhail, part human, part fae. He is the odd one out of the rowdy warriors of the Fianna, more a musician and a diplomat than a fighter (although he can definitely hold his own in an adventure). He is most famous from the love story where he runs away with the Queen of the Land of Youth.

WANDS (action, fire)

King of Wands: Setuli, King of the Birds (Eswatini)

This king is THE King. He is a true leader, a great role model. He takes on challenges, defeats obstacles, makes dreams into reality. He is a visionary, all energy, action and innovation. If I was going to put Arthur in the deck, this would be him - but I wanted to pick someone less obvious. So, let me introduce you to Setuli, King of Birds, from the tales of Eswatini. He is born deaf and mute, but when his magician brother takes him into the wilderness, he meets a wise old woman and she helps him gain magic powers through his own bravery and determination. Setuli then uses his new powers to turn birds into people, and sets out on a journey. He ends up breaking a curse on another kingdom, and those people join him too; he defeats monsters and makes daring plans, and in the end he lives happily ever after as the ruler of a prosperous land. 

Knight of Wands: Astolfo (Italy)

This Knight is daring, enthusiastic, and passionate. He has a lot of energy to go around: he gets into spontaneous adventures, sweeps damsels off their feet, helps out friends, goes on quests, makes magic happen. He has as much charm as Cups, but in a less dreamy and more adventurous way. For these reasons I chose Astolfo, one of the heroes of the Italian epic Orlando Furioso. He is an English prince, one of Charlemagne's paladins, most famous for riding the first hippogriff recorded in legends! After rescuing the magic steed from a wizard, he flies it to the Moon to find the lost wits of his friend Orlando. It is quite an adventure story!

SWORDS (intellect, air)

King of Swords: Solomon (Jewish, Christian & Muslim traditions)

This King is all about wisdom, knowledge, and intellect. He makes good, impartial judgment, he is respected and trusted by everyone, and he always finds the truth. He follows logic instead of emotions, and he is good at what he does. He is also a strong authority figure. I thought the legendary King Solomon would be a good fit for this card. Recently I was doing some research on Solomon's judgment (the baby-cutting-in-half thing), and it is a lot deeper than most people realize.

Knight of Swords: Mercury Ali (1001 Nights)

Knight of Swords is a bundle of energy and intellect. He is unstoppable, always up for a challenge, good with words, and usually the smartest person in the room (sometimes annoyingly so). He is all about action and winning (I love it that Telluric Tarot symbolizes him with the coffee plant). Now, I could have picked a lot of heroes for this one, but I wanted to highlight the intellect part. So instead of a knight I chose a trickster: the infamous Mercury Ali from the 1001 Nights. He is a legendary rogue from Cairo, who travels to Bagdad and gets into an endless prank war with a clever lady named Zaynab. He goes through many adventures, sometimes fighting with wits, and sometimes with a magic spear, until he can marry his lady love.
(CW: this story has a few seriously problematic parts, but in my opinion none of them are essential to the plot, and can be easily skipped.)

PENTACLES (material things, earth)

King of Pentacles: Laurin (Germany)

This King symbolizes wealth, abundance, and material security. He is grounded, respected, traditional, and successful in making his domain flourish. He is also kind of a fatherly figure and a family man. I immediately thought King Laurin would be a good fit. In German legends he is the Dwarf king of the mountains of Tyrol. He reigns over a wealthy underground kingdom full of treasures, and has a beautiful rose garden in the mountains. He features into a long and amazing legend about the struggle between humans and Dwarves.

Knight of Pentacles: Kay the Senechal (Britain)

He is not a very knightly Knight. This guy is about hard work, planning, and practical things. He is patient, responsible, reliable, persistent, and honorable. He is also, to me, one of my favorite knights from Arthurian legends: Sir Kay the Senechal. Kay is generally known for his sharp tongue and grumpy demeanor (and for being King Arthur's mean foster brother), but behind the scenes, he is the one that keeps the lights on in Camelot. In the old Welsh legends he literally keeps everyone warm by the heat radiating from his body. He might not be a good fighter, or a romantic hero, but he keeps all of them housed, clothed, and fed. You're welcome. 

Who are your favorite heroes, kings, and knights in shining armor?
(And don't worry, we'll get to the queens too!)

Monday, April 12, 2021

Tarot Tales: J is for Judgement

Welcome to the 2021 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Tarot Tales. I am making a selection of folktales, legends, and other traditional stories that correspond to tarot cards. Storytelling and tarot go well together. Do other stories come to mind? Let me know in the comments!

The card: Judgement

Meanings: Judgement has to do with stepping into a new phase, another level of consciousness; of making a life-changing decision and finding your true self and calling. It also deals with releasing old things, past wounds, regret and guilt. It is about debts (both paying and letting go), self-reflection, and awakening to personal truths. It is a card of things coming to light, even though (or maybe because) in the past mistakes have been made.

Selection process: Okay so I struggle with this card a lot, and I think I'm not alone. I also struggled with trying to find a story that fits such an abstract concept (as long as I did not want to settle for the obvious "Last Judgment"). In the end, it was the "past mistakes" and the "coming to light" part that led me to this tale, which is one of my all-time favorites. 

The story: Aicha's tasks on earth

Origin: Algeria

A merchant has a brave, clever, and talented daughter, Aicha. A prince proposes to marry her, but with a clever ruse she reveals that he is a coward and a liar, and rejects the marriage. Early on in the story she defeats a man-eating ghoul that tries to kill her family, but she doesn't check to see if she'd burnt the body thoroughly enough. A leftover splinter of the ghoul's bone wounds her, and curses her: she has to keep traveling the world without rest. Aicha turns the curse to her advantage, and sets out to kill monsters and slay demons all over the place. She unveils mysteries, helps people, and chases enemies away. After many adventures (she even runs into Sindbad once), she finally gets rid of the literal demon on her shoulder, and becomes a great queen. 
(I also wrote about her in my StorySpotting series)

Sources & notes: Read here. I also included the first half in my book about superpowers in folktales.

Runner-ups: Kadyr's fortune, a Kazakh tale about a man in search of his luck, who makes a lot of foolish mistakes along the way, but eventually learns to recognize his good fortune. I was also thinking of King Lindworm, where a dragon-prince is transformed into true royalty through trial and error.

What would you do if you had to constantly travel all your life?

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Cool stories from a tiny country (Following folktales 197. - Brunei)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts here, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Dusun Folktales
A collection of eighty-eight folktales in the Dusun language of Brunei with English translations
Eva Maria Kershaw
University of Hawaii, 1994.

This book was a slow read, mostly because it is three hundred pages long (even if half of it is in Dusun). It looks hand-typed and I could only get it through inter-library loan, but it was still a fascinating read. The mirror translation did not always explain details in the stories, but there were some very helpful footnotes. The book contains 88 folktales from the Dusun, an indigenous group from Borneo. This was the only folktale collection from Brunei I could find. According to the author at the time of the collecting the Brunei government did not support the teaching of indigenous languages, or the preservation of their customs. Hence the bilingual volume that hoped to give the tales back to their community. At the time of its publication (1994) they projected that the Dusun language would disappear within 50 years.
Since this is a folklore publication, the tales are translated word for word, without censorship, including the adult and erotic themes.


The myth about how people asked to die was very interesting; it was a rare story where death was not a mistake, or divine punishment, but rather something humans asked from the gods, to stop the world from being overpopulated. There was a beautiful nature myth too, about how the dollarbird brings fruit season every year to Borneo.
The tale of Princess Boar was a fascinating story about a hunter who ventured into the land of boars where the animals live as humans. He became a healer, and learned that his prey had feelings too. His brother, who was less kind-hearted, met a violent end. 
There was a very cool fight scene where twins with supernatural powers used a giant, bladed spinning top to kill a man-eating giant eagle. Also, a clever girl who disguised herself as an old woman by borrowing features from various animals (e.g. red eyes, thick thighs, white hair). There was Camphor Woman (camphor apparently was an important part of Dusun trade), and I learned that many stories feature five siblings because they are named after the five fingers (to make a storyteller's job easier...). 
The most important tidbit I learned, however, is the sound you hear when someone is kicked in the face by a tortoise. It sounds like this:

(According to the English translation, anyway.)


I loved the Dusun variant of the Brementown musicians. It featured a piece of excrement that set out on an adventure; floating down the river it imagined itself to be a pirate, and with the help of a scorpion and a centipede managed to scare the hell out of a household of people.
After China and Myanmar there was once again a tale about a girl who married a giant serpent, and was swallowed on the wedding night. There were kinder serpent husbands, and girls born from lemons as well among the classic tale types.
My personal favorite was Miss Buncu in the land of the tani dogs, a Dusun variant of the Kind and Unkind Girls tale type. Tani dogs are somewhat disgusting, man-eating creatures, who nonetheless treated their human guest in a very kind and friendly manner, as long as she did not make fun of their food (worms for rice, ears for mushrooms, etc.). They even made sure she got a different "vegan" menu. 
Obviously there were many Mouse Deer tales, some nicer than others (I was not happy when Mouse Deer raped someone). 

Where to next?
The Philippines!

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Tarot Tales: I is for Illusion (The Moon)

Welcome to the 2021 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Tarot Tales. I am making a selection of folktales, legends, and other traditional stories that correspond to tarot cards. Storytelling and tarot go well together. Do other stories come to mind? Let me know in the comments!

The card: The Moon

Meanings: The Moon is a card of shadowy things, things that can't quite be seen. It is about anxiety, deception, and foreboding. But it is also about intuition, illusions, mystery, and hidden truths. It is about things not always being what they seem; about caution, fearing the unknown, and moving through uncertain times. Through the role of the Moon in folklore, it is connected to ritual and divine guidance.

Selection process: Despite all the millions of tales about the Moon out there, this one was an easy choice. From the moment I first read about the Moon card, this was the story that immediately came to mind. 

The story: The Buried Moon

Origin: England

The Moon decides to come down to earth one night to see all the things her light protects people from. Whenever she shines in the sky, she chases away the Things that live in the bogs and marshlands and threaten people in the dark. As she walks around the bog, she slips into a pool and gets caught by the creatures. While she struggles, a mortal man comes along, and to warn him of the danger, the Moon throws back her hood and shines her light around. The man escapes, but the Moon remains trapped. Before the sun rises, the Things roll a big rock over her to keep her from returning to the sky.
When the Moon remains lost for several nights, people begin to worry. What will happen to then at night if her light never returns? Eventually the man who escaped the bog tells the others about the light he'd seen. Following a wise woman's advice people set out into the bog to find and rescue the Moon. They do so together, and the Moon flies back to the sky, chasing the Things away with her radiant light. 

Sources & notes: Read the story here, or the more archaic text here.

Have you ever walked in moonlight at night? What is your favorite thing about the moon?

Friday, April 9, 2021

Tarot Tales: H is for the Hanged Man

Welcome to the 2021 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Tarot Tales. I am making a selection of folktales, legends, and other traditional stories that correspond to tarot cards. Storytelling and tarot go well together. Do other stories come to mind? Let me know in the comments!

The card: The Hanged Man

Meanings: The Hanged Man symbolizes putting things on hold, surrendering to inactivity, letting go, taking your time. It is a voluntary sacrifice to see new points of view, reevaluate our perspectives, giving up trying to control things around us. The Hanged Man is not bound or trapped; he is reflecting, waiting, regrouping, and going with the flow. 

Selection process: The Hanged Man is often related to Odin or Jesus Christ, as mythical figures who voluntary hung from a tree (cross) and suffered a sacrifice in order to gain wisdom / salvation. Once again, I wanted to dig deeper. I wanted to find a story that deals with patience, voluntary release, and new perspectives.

The story: Lei-lehua  (Hoamakeikekula)

Origin: Hawaii

Lei-lehua is a beautiful girl who is raised by her grandmother after the old woman finds her thrown out with the trash. When she is twenty years old, she gets lost in the forest, and a bird leads her to a prince's house. The prince wants to marry her, but Lei-lehua asks him to give her time to consider his proposal, and see if she loves him. While she lives in his mother's house, she repeatedly sees a handsome warrior in her dreams, a man who calls out to her. She falls in love with the dream, and sets out into the wilderness to find him.
After lots of wandering and sorrow (because of which she earns the name Hoamakeikekula, Companion in Suffering in the Glade), Lei-lehua finally gives up the futile search, climbs a tree, wraps herself in ie-ie vines, and waits for something to happen. Eventually she is found by a king's servant who takes her down, and introduces her to his lord - who turns out to be Pu'u-o-nale, the man from her dream. 

Sources & notes: You can read the story online in this book, or here, or here, or here.

Runner-ups: I was also considering the tale of the Wooden Sword because it talks about not trying to control the future, and finding a way to move forward whatever happens. (It's a great anti-anxiety folktale, I collected some of those here.)

Have you ever had a dream that came true? Or a dream you just could not shake?

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Tarot Tales: G is for the Green Goddess ( The Empress)

Welcome to the 2021 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Tarot Tales. I am making a selection of folktales, legends, and other traditional stories that correspond to tarot cards. Storytelling and tarot go well together. Do other stories come to mind? Let me know in the comments!

The card: The Empress

Meanings: The Empress is a card about fertility and femininity. It is about nature, nurture, beauty, abundance, creativity, birth, and motherhood. It also has connection to comfort, pleasure, sensuality, health, love, and romance. It is an all-around lovely card.

Selection process: Obviously, this story had to be about a woman. Preferably one who is also royalty or divinity. World lore is full of mother and fertility goddesses, so there was a lot to choose from. The easy route would have been to pick one of the big names, such as Demeter, but I wanted to dig a little deeper, and shine a light on less well-known stories.

The story: The princess who made the forests green and the meadows bloom

Origin: Hungary 

A young prince decides that he will only marry the Princess Who Makes the Forests Green and the Meadows Bloom (Erdőzöldítő és Mezővirágoztató Királykisasszony). His parents try to hold him back, since no one actually knows if such a princess exists, but he sets out on a quest anyway. On his way he arrives to a dying kingdom where nothing grows. He finds out that the king had unwittingly promised his child to the Devil, but the refused to give the baby up, and in revenge the Devil turned the whole kingdom into a desert. The only way to break the curse is for the PWMFGMB to find her true husband, and travel across the land.
The prince meets an old beggar, who tells him that the princess can only marry a man who was a late child, and who wanted to marry her even before he knew she existed. When he finds out that the prince fulfills both, he grants him a magic wand that summons anything one draws with it. Using the magic wand the prince travels to the PWMFGMB's lush, thriving kingdom, and attends the royal ball two nights in a row. The princess falls in love with him, they get married, and on their way home they cross the desert kingdom. Wherever the princess passes, everything turns green, flowers bloom, vegetation grows, and nature comes to life.

Sources & notes: Hungarian text online here.

Runner-ups: A similar fertility blessing appears in the Indian tale of A story in search of an audience, where a newborn girl is blessed with magic nature powers. I also considered including the Lady Tree of the Narts, an actual world tree goddess from the Caucasus who holds magical knowledge (and has a baby with a hero).

Do you like green things? Are you a gardener? What are your favorite plats?

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Tarot Tales: F is for Fortitude (Strength)

Welcome to the 2021 A to Z Blogging Challenge! My theme this year is Tarot Tales. I am making a selection of folktales, legends, and other traditional stories that correspond to tarot cards. Storytelling and tarot go well together. Do other stories come to mind? Let me know in the comments!

The card: Strength

Meanings: This card is not about brute force or physical strength. It is about endurance, fortitude, and perseverance; holding on, putting your foot down, and weathering the storm. It is about an inner power that you are in control of, a kind of confidence that says "I can do this." Courage, coping, and composure. 

Selection process: The original Strength card shows a young woman taming a lion, holding it firmly but gently. I wanted to find a tale about a girl or a woman taming a lion, to keep the symbolism of the card, but I also wanted the story to deal with perseverance and fortitude rather than physical strength or trickery.

The story: The lion's whiskers

Origin: Ethiopia

A woman marries a widower who has a young son, and becomes the child's stepmother. No matter how she tries to befriend her new stepson, he does not open up to her. The woman, desperate to find a way to connect with him, goes to a wise man and asks him for a magic potion to make the boy like her. The wise man tells her that the main ingredient for such a potion is the whisker of a ferocious lion that lives in the desert - and she has to acquire the whisker herself. 
The woman, determined to gain the love of her stepson, sets out into the desert to face the lion. She comes up with a plan: she brings food, and every day she tosses it to the lion, coming a little closer each time. Slowly, day by day, the lion grows used to her presence, until she gets so close that she can take a whisker. 
When she returns to the wise man, he reveals that there is no magic potion. Instead he tells her: "All you have to do for your stepson to like you is the same you did with the lion." It takes time, patience, and perseverance for the boy to accept his stepmother - but eventually, he does. 

Sources & notes: You can find the story in this book. There are also many variants that involve a wife and a husband instead of mother and child. You can read one, also from Ethiopia, here.

Runner-ups: I was also considering the tale of Diirawic from Sudan, where a young man wants to marry his sister, so she runs away into the wilderness with a bunch of other girls, and they tame and adopt a lion as their brother.

I think getting ahead day by day, little by little, is probably a good message for trying times like these. How are you all doing? What's the whisker you are reaching for?